Austin Rivers is not ready to take his talents to the NBA, and by doing so next season, he will be making a huge mistake to begin his professional basketball career.
The standout guard from Duke University has announced that he will be leaving for the NBA next season, and while his freshman campaign certainly had its upsides, the 19-year-old has much to learn before he can be considered an elite prospect at the next level.
While Rivers is projected to be a borderline top-15 pick by some, the dependable scorer could have potentially landed himself in the front half of the lottery with another year or two under his belt at the collegiate level.
There’s no doubt about it—Rivers is a very good isolation player who should be looked at closely by any team in need of a scoring guard. After all, his clutch shot against the North Carolina Tar Heels may have bumped up his draft stock this season all by itself.
Getting his teammates involved, however, never appeared to be a regular concern for Duke’s go-to scorer.
Recording more turnovers than assists during his one and only season at Duke, Rivers never really showed that he can play within a system.
A classic tweener at the next level, if Rivers enters the NBA as a tall point guard, he will need to learn to run an offense and become more of a floor general than he showed at any point this season.
If he comes in as an undersized shooting guard, the 6’4”, 200-pounder will be undersized and lack the athleticism to make plays against the NBA’s most versatile defenders.
Establishing a position would have been something to work on over the next year or two for Rivers, but departing after only one season leaves the question mark about his spot on the floor unanswered.
His Achilles’ heel on offense, regardless of position, has to be the often-times nonexistent left hand of his.
Rivers can create his own shot off the dribble, but in today’s NBA, someone who is limited to one side of the court is going to be smothered and forced to the player's weak side.
NBA coaches and players rarely have the time or patience to teach the fundamentals, and while Rivers showed he can get to the rim this season, defenses at the next level are going to know how to exploit such an obvious flaw in the iso game.
Defense also has to be a concern for any team looking to draft Rivers early, as he never seemed to fully utilize his 6’8” wingspan on the perimeter.
Whether he can’t defend or won’t defend is a question all in itself. Either way, though, another year to get stronger and learn the basics from an incredible coaching staff could help add a whole new dimension to his game.
So the question here becomes, what reasons does Rivers have to enter the draft at all this season?
Committing to Duke last year, Rivers was expected to be a scorer, and throughout the past four months of competition, he proved to be just that.
Finishing the season as the team’s leading scorer certainly helps justify his leap to the NBA, but questions about how well he fit within Mike Krzyzewski’s system has to be considered another reason for the jump.
As a one-on-one guard, Rivers didn’t appear to fit the scheme or the culture of teamwork for which Duke has become renowned. The Blue Devils have rarely been known as an isolation team, and Rivers can now enter a star-driven league that covets one-on-one play from its perimeter guards and forwards.
Still, the question also has to be asked with Rivers—as it does with all collegiate athletes looking to go pro—what if he were to get hurt during his time at Duke?
It goes without saying, the dangers of enduring a career-ending or career-altering injury increases the longer a player remains active in the sport, and if that player has the opportunity to get paid for his talent early on, jumping on it seems like a no-brainer.
Rivers can practically taste the NBA draft and he has taken full advantage of the reasons to make the jump right now.
The fact remains, though, that the future first-rounder does not need the immediate financial relief of the NBA, so sticking around to improve the flaws in his game should be his No. 1 priority.
As reliable a scorer as Rivers showed he can be, his shooting inconsistency has to be a concern for anybody looking to select a go-to scorer in the upcoming draft.
Free-throw shooting was a problem this season for Rivers. Averaging only 65.8 percent, Rivers showed inconsistency and unreliability from the line—two traits that shouldn't even be near a player who is touted as such a good scorer.
From the three-point line, Rivers shot a respectable 36.5 percent this season, but that number is going to need to be higher if he is going to be a consistent threat from deep moving forward.
Quite frankly, Rivers is doing himself a disservice by not sticking around to improve his game before going pro.
He’s an incredible talent, and by refining a game that is rather raw, he could land himself much higher in the draft if he just had the patience and dedication to continue to hone his craft.
The truth is, though, whether you like it or not, Rivers has every right to enter the NBA draft, and he’s chosen to exercise that right sooner rather than later. Regardless of where he ends up, he’ll be making money and playing the game that he loves at arguably the highest level of competition there is to offer.
With so many aspects of his game left to improve, though, and three more years of NCAA eligibility officially down the drain, you can’t help but think that more time under one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history could have done wonders for a player who simply is not ready to make the jump to the NBA level.